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Over-the-counter Narcan is hitting shelves in September

The opioid overdose-reversing drug is expected to be available at pharmacies nationally and online


AP Photo/Robert Schermer

By Hanna Webster
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — Biomedical company Emergent BioSolutions announced Wednesday its opioid overdose-reversing naloxone product is expected to hit the shelves starting in September.

Emergent BioSolutions is one of two companies — along with pharmaceutical nonprofit Harm Reduction Therapeutics — with a Food and Drug Administration-approved naloxone product.

Emergent’s name-brand Narcan was FDA-approved in March, and was the first-ever naloxone product to be approved for use without a prescription in the U.S.

Demand for naloxone has increased as overdose deaths have risen across the nation, with potent fentanyl replacing heroin on the streets and being cut into cocaine and pills. In Allegheny County, fentanyl was involved in 85% of overdose deaths in 2022, according to the Allegheny County overdose dashboard. The drug was related to 29% of overdose deaths in 2015.

In July, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra renewed a declaration stating that the opioid crisis is a public health emergency.

According to a news release, Narcan will be sold in two-dose cartons of 4-mg nasal spray devices and is expected to be available at pharmacies nationally and through pharmacies’ online retailers. Rite Aid is among those participating in the rollout, both in physical stores and at, Rite Aid spokesperson Catherine Carter confirmed.

Walgreens in an email confirmed it will begin selling Narcan online on Sept. 5. In-store availability will start Sept. 7, with the product to be found at the pharmacy counter as well as the front register.

Narcan is expected to cost consumers $44.99 per carton, and the company is offering a reduced cost of $41 per carton to state and local governments interested in purchasing the product, effective Thursday, Aug. 31. The company does not expect the product to be under lock and key or require a pharmacist’s sign-off.

“Expanding availability to online and in-store shelves, increasing awareness and education to reduce stigma, and calling on the public to be prepared, is additive to the current work Emergent does every single day to stem the tide of this public health threat,” said Paul Williams, senior vice president of products business at Emergent BioSolutions, in the Wednesday release.

“On the heels of International Overdose Awareness Day, we stand by our ongoing efforts with advocates, patients, customers and policy stakeholders to implement efforts that enhance naloxone distribution to all those in need.”

Harm reduction experts and community advocates said this rollout was a step in the right direction, but that roadblocks — particularly in terms of access — still exist.

“This is a really, really incredible change that’s happening,” said Dr. Divya Venkat, an addiction medicine physician at Allegheny Health Network and the medical director for the Prevention Point Pittsburgh Medical Mobile Unit.

She said she hopes the over-the-counter model ultimately pushes the price down so that it’s more affordable.

“The more it costs, the less accessible it is, and that’s not the goal,” Dr. Venkat said.

“OTC naloxone will not be affordable for many people, especially those most likely to be witnessing and responding to overdoses on a regular basis,” concurred Alice Bell, overdose prevention coordinator for Prevention Point Pittsburgh. “So it’s critical that states continue to purchase and provide naloxone to organizations, like Prevention Point, supplying people who use drugs with naloxone for free.”

Jordan Scott, an advocacy and organizing coordinator with the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Network, said while this is a step in the right direction, it’s still cost-prohibitive to those who need it most.

“Naloxone isn’t getting to where it needs to be,” she said. “The best place for it is out in the community, in the hands of people using drugs.”

But everyone should carry naloxone on them in case of emergency, said both Dr. Venkat and Ms. Scott. In the Emergent BioSolutions release, Dr. Bonnie Milas, a physician and professor of clinical anesthesiology and critical care at Penn Medicine, said having Narcan on hand is just like stocking the house with a fire extinguisher — it’s there just in case.

Some within the harm reduction community, Ms. Scott said, fear that over-the-counter availability will push states to spend less money on Narcan they currently distribute for free, further stymying access issues.

“That would be disastrous,” she said.

Next Distro, an online naloxone mailing service, could not immediately be reached for comment. At this time, it’s unclear if Allegheny County Health Department will purchase Narcan through Emergent BioSolutions’ reduced cost model to distribute to community organizations.

Overall, Dr. Venkat sees the news as a positive shift in how society views overdoses.

“People are seeing that it can happen to anyone,” she said. “Everyone should carry naloxone. Everyone should be part of the movement to reduce overdose deaths.”

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